MGA Professor’s Adventure Takes Him Near the Top of the World

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2016 4:30 PM
Categories: Pressroom | School of Business | Faculty/Staff

Macon, GA

Greg George
For the record, Dr. Greg George did not climb Mount Everest.

The headline of an online story posted on a Macon TV station’s website claimed the Middle Georgia State University professor did just that, but it was an understandable mistake. A newsroom staffer had spotted George’s blog chronicling his trek to Everest Base Camp and apparently assumed he was ascending Earth’s highest peak, located in a South Asian mountain range spanning Nepal and Tibet.

“I didn’t climb Everest,” George said, “but I got some well-earned views of it.”

It’s mid-June, some 15 days after his return from the three-week expedition, and George is as lean
as a walking pole, having shed 20 pounds from an already slender frame during the trip. His voice remains husky from high-altitude induced bronchitis, known among base camp trekkers as the Khumbu Cough, named after an area around Everest.

The 48-year-old associate professor of Economics, who also directs MGA’s Center for Economic Analysis, is back to his summer classes - Principles of Microeconomics and International Economics - and mixing vignettes from his most recent journey into the course material.

“Poverty in the U.S. and global poverty are two different things,” George said. “Having a background in economics, I tend to think in terms of per-capita income, comparative standards of living, jobs and productivity. But I was keenly aware that my sunglasses cost the equivalence of a month’s salary for an average employed Nepali. My camera gear cost for what many of them is an annual salary.”

And yet, when members of George’s travel group unknowingly dropped cash on two different occasions, street vendors picked the money up and returned it each time.

“The local people were the highlight of the trip for me,” George said. “My biggest takeaway was how kind they are. They depend heavily on tourists.”

George joined the Middle Georgia State faculty in 2001 and was one of three School of Business professors who founded the Center for Economic Analysis, which provides applied research assistance to businesses, governments and civic organizations. Over time, George became a go-to guy for Macon area media outlets looking for expert commentary on topics ranging from unemployment rates to retirement savings to housing markets.

In the last few years, George has also become known among MGA students and colleagues for his adventurous travel.

A South Carolina native who spent formative years in Northern California, George has long been an avid backwoods hiker, snow skier, surfer and fly fisherman, but he began taking his escapades up a notch or two (or three or four) as he entered his mid-40s.

Midlife crisis? “Definitely,” George said.

His first turbocharged adventure came in late 2014 when he and a friend, Kimberly Holland, climbed and skied at Cayambe, a 19,000 foot volcano that is part of the Andes mountain range in Ecuador.

“It’s the only place on the planet where you can ski on the Equator,” George said.

The Ecuador trip was also the start of his adventure travel blog, Zero Latitude, where George describes his often-grueling undertakings, as well as observations of local places and people and musings on “geek” topics near and dear to him, such as geography, astronomy, photography, historical background of his destinations, gear-packing and ways to combat altitude sickness.

His second climbing-and-skiing adventure came just a few months later when he tackled Tuckerman Ravine on the southeast face of Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Tuckerman Ravine is a cirque (French, from the Latin word circus), defined by Wikipedia as a theater-like valley formed by glacial erosion.

“’Tucks’ is wicked,” George wrote in his blog. “Pictures are completely inadequate to describe the
size of this glacial cirque. I watched all the videos on YouTube and perused the pictures on Google
images, but none of them prepared me for the size and steepness of Tuckerman Ravine. This is why you have to do things. You can read about them, study them, Google them and blog about them, but until you go and experience them, you know nothing.”

On May 12 of this year, George departed for his most extreme adventure yet – trekking to Everest
Base Camp. The term, as described in Wikipedia, refers to two base camps on opposite sides of Mount Everest. George trekked to South Base Camp in Nepal, which is at an altitude of more than 17,500 feet. North Base Camp in Tibet is at an altitude of 16,900 feet.

Both camps are used by mountain climbers during their ascents and descents. The south side is the most popular with adventure tourists who don’t attempt climbs of the mountain itself but “only” trek to the base camp. Just getting to that point, however, is not for the faint of heart.

George, again accompanied by Holland, took a flight to Kathmandu, then to Lukla, the gateway to Everest and home to what is considered the world’s most dangerous airport due to the steep terrain.

From there, it was all on foot. Trekkers ascend to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar then continue on for at least seven days to reach South Base Camp. George and Holland, who were grouped with other travelers led by the same local guides, took one route to the camp and an alternative trek back. They built rest days in to help acclimate to the high altitude, but Holland and some others in the group still were sickened.

Four – not including Holland - had to be helicoptered out.

George did not get altitude sickness but the trek was the most draining of his considerable travels.

“It’s hard to describe the wear and tear on your body that takes place over 18 days,” he said. “This is not a beach vacation. You’re staying in rudimentary lodging, you’re battling cold.”

The payoff, however, was majestic views seen by only a resilient few in all of humankind. George noted that the paradox of Everest, the highest point on Earth, is that “you can’t see it unless you go there. And you have to walk 60 miles to get there.”

George thinks his travels make him a better teacher. He often encourages Middle Georgia State students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities and travel as much as they can while they are young and have fewer responsibilities.

“I incorporate what I can from my travels into my job, especially when I teach International Economics,” George said. “I think it gives me more credibility in those classes.”

He’s also a subject of wonder to at least some of his students, one of whom shared the local TV news station’s story about George’s Everest trek on his Facebook page. The student’s comment was spot on: “My economics professor is cooler than yours.”

George is now contemplating where his next trip will take him. He hopes his 18-year-old son eventually joins him on one of his special excursions. But Percy George, while active and athletic, is at the moment more interested in computers than adventure travel.

Wherever George ends up next will no doubt seem exotic to most mere mortals. But George admits the Everest trek was probably the apex of what he’s willing to do.

“Believe it or not, I’m really not a huge risk-taker,” he said. “Some people who adventure travel never reach their limits. But I think I probably found my comfort zone.”

Photo: Dr. Greg George during his recent Everest Base Camp trek.